Slum Village - Villa Manifesto

Posted July 29, 2010
Tags: Slum Village,

If you believe in destiny, than you have to believe that destiny doesn’t like Slum Village -...

Villa Manifesto Album Review

If you believe in destiny, than you have to believe that destiny doesn’t like Slum Village - the Detroit mainstays, once hailed as the Midwest’s answer to A Tribe Called Quest, have been derailed so many times it’s a wonder they ever put out tracks. Formed by top-five-dead-or-alive producer J Dilla and emcees T3 and Baatin, Slum Village quickly became an underground favorite before Dilla left to pursue a solo career. That’s when things started to get acrazy. In order: Slum recruited Elzhi to fill the gap left by Dilla, Baatin suffered a mental breakdown and either left or was kicked out (depending on whom you ask), Dilla passed away, Dilla’s brother Illa J joined, Baatin passed away and Elzhi left the group, leaving only T3 and Illa J currently still standing. Follow all that? You might want to draw a flow chart.

Than again, it also feels like destiny that we now have Villa Manifesto, Slum Village’s new album and the only one to ever feature all five members of the group. Much more than a mere album, Villa is a testament to perseverance, a sometimes disjointed but surprisingly cohesive (given the circumstances) work that should prompt no shortage of “what ifs?” from serious hip-hop heads. What if all five members of SV had truly been working together all these years, how many classic albums would we have? Sadly we’ll never know the answer to that question, it apparently wasn’t meant to be. But someone up above was clearly guiding the creation of Villa Manifesto, and for that we should rejoice, not mourn.

It would be too simple to dismiss Slum Village as an “underground” group. SV might have never topped the charts, but they’ve shown that they’re capable of breaking through to the radio before (Selfish, Tainted) and that same deft touch is evident on Manifesto. Lead single Faster features a bouncing beat with a subtly gritty undertone from producer Young RJ, whose work pervades the album, that SV uses to drop relationship rhymes that sometimes flirt with cliché, but never f**ks cliché. Top it all off with a superbly catchy and typically electronic hook from Colin Munroe and you’ve got a track that pops off without going pop. Similarly well balanced is Don’t Fight the Feeling, a cut that undercuts a soft r&b melody with a grinding bass line, a chorus from frequent collaborator Dwele and flows that hold back just enough to hold tension. I’d also have to throw the aptly moving Dance and the delightfully dirty Um Um, which I wasn’t feeling at first but grew to enjoy more and more with every listen, into this group. Tracks like these prove that you don’t have to be a hardcore hip-hop head to dig Villa Manifesto, you just have to like good music.

But if you are a hardcore hip-hop head….goddamn does Manifesto have a couple tracks for you. Lock It Down incredibly features a deceptively complex posthumous beat from Dilla that the SV emcees crush with headphone worthy flows. (Still, the beat’s the star of the show here). Even more remarkable is the lush Scheming, a cut that features J Donuts on the mic along with Posdnuos of De La Soul and Phife of Tribe, Just in case you didn’t catch that the first time around, I’m talking about a Slum Village/De La Soul/Tribe Called Quest collabo. If that doesn’t get you excited, you’re really not that into this culture. Remarkably though, I’d have to give best of the album award to The Set Up, a cut that finds Reflection Eternal producer Hi-Tek supplying a raw beat that the Village spin a cinematic, narrative tale of betrayal and criminal acts that sounds more like a Wire episode on wax. And as if that wasn’t enough, Set Up is followed immediately by the intensely autobiographical The Reunion Pt. 2, a track that has to rank among the most disturbingly honest in hip-hop history.

No one but Slum Village could deliver track these those, and it’s safe to say no album will come out this year, or ever, that sounds like Villa Manifesto. While this may technically be the last Slum Village album, it certainly will be the last featuring the group’s original core, which means we’re confronted by a choice. We can be mad at the gods that took away superb hip-hop minds like Dilla and Baatin and prevented Slum Village from consistently cohering, or we can be thankful for the dope music they dropped while they were here. Personally, I choose the latter.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted July 29, 2010
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